Tuesday, April 22, 2014

UPDATED/REVISED THROUGHOUT Ohio's youth-only season and general season turkey opener harvests plunge

A good reason exists for why Ohio’s recently concluded youth-only wild turkey-hunting season harvest was plucked by 17 percent.

Much less accountable is why the April 21st general wild turkey-hunting season opener kill dropped from the roost by a nearly equal whopping 11 percent.

In the first case the youth-only season ran April 19 and 20 with the latter date being Easter Sunday. Church services, family gatherings and Easter egg hunts almost certainly kept both youngsters and their adult mentors out of the woods.

No such excuse existed for the April 21st general spring turkey season opener, however. Blessed with perfect weather and a generally assumed large flock of sexually active two-year old male turkeys – called either “toms” or “gobblers,” hunters should have experienced a corresponding opening day harvest blitz.

Instead, the season’s first day numbers were truly disappointing, if not downright discouraging.

On April 21st, 2,455 male wild turkeys were killed statewide compared to the 2,762 toms harvested on the 2013 season opener, based on figures supplied by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

And for the youth-only two-day season the statistics were 1,480 and 1,784, respectively, for the 2014 and 2013 hunts.

In both cases there were far more Ohio counties tallied in the “oops” column than in the “hurrah” column.

“I was surprised myself when I first saw the numbers,” said Ryan Harris, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Wildlife Division’s District Four (southeast Ohio) office in Athens. “I’m not entirely sure what to make of it either.”

In a possible partial explanation for the opening day harvest, a lack of hunters being in the woods might have contributed to the decline, Harris said also.

Harris said he went hunting on the general season’s first Thursday at the 6,696-acre Wallace H. O’Dowd Wildlife Area in Athens and Hocking counties and noted how he pretty much had the run of the place.

“Counting my vehicle, there were only three on the wildlife area, and this is a place that typically can at times see some rather heavy hunting pressure,” Harris said. “I just think the harvest stats are down because a lot of hunters simply aren’t in the woods yet; maybe they’re waiting for better weather.”

Even so, the statistics that Harris referred to showed a widespread county-by-county pattern of declines in the numbers of turkeys harvested. For this year’s general season opener, of Ohio’s 88 counties only 10 showed harvest increases while 8 reported no change from the 2013 opener to this year’s opener.

In looking at the youth-only season, 11 of Ohio’s 88 counties registered gains while 15 recorded no change between the 2013 youth-only season and this year’s hunt, the Wildlife Division’s check-in system reveals.

Yet Harris believes this year’s frost-bitten winter likely had little impact on contributing to a real or imagined decrease in Ohio’s wild turkey population.

Cold it was, Harris agrees, but in much of the state any subsequent large-scale crusting of ground-covering snow failed to materialize. Consequently turkeys in all likelihood had little difficulty plowing through the snow with their powerful legs and sharp claws to get at acorns and other hard mast, Harris said.

“Wildlife is well adapted to dealing with these sort of weather events and turkeys are no exception,” Harris said. “And we have to remember we’ve seen some mild winters lately so what occurred this past winter was more typical and people tended to forget that.”

Some of the noteworthy counties with (mostly) declines or (just a couple) gains for the general wild turkey-hunting season opener (with their respective 2013 opening day figures in parentheses) were: Ashtabula County – 75 (114), Brown County – 64 (58), Columbiana County – 73 (62), Coshocton County – 71 (89), Guernsey County - 69 (87), Harrison County – 82 (76), Jefferson County – 58 (60), Licking County – 60 (also 60), Meigs County – 66 (60), Monroe County – 64 (76), Muskingum County – 68 (97), Trumbull County – 74 (70), Tuscarawas County – 68 (85).

Several other counties showing the largest drops and not noted above (with both double digit 2013 and 2014 opening day harvests a requirement) were: Clermont County – 39 (60), Jackson County – 40 (59), Perry County – 38 (47), Pike County – 32 (44).

At the other end, several additional counties showing the biggest gains and not noted above (with both double digit 2013 and 2014 opening day harvests a requirement) were: Defiance County – 27 (20), Hocking County – 52 (40), Lorain County – 23 (19), Mahoning County – 34 (24), Richland County – 36 (47), Ross County – 32 (49), and Vinton County ­- 35 (39).

Note that Vinton County was the site of Ohio’s first modern-day efforts to reintroduce wild turkeys into Ohio, a project launched in the 1950s with the county also the first location where the state conducted a very tightly controlled turkey hunt that included a lottery drawing just in order to obtain a permit.

“Hopefully the weather will improve and the harvest will get better as we move through the season,” Harris said.

Properly licensed hunters – both residents and non-residents – in Ohio can tag up to two male wild turkeys during the season, which will run through May 18. The daily bag limit is one bearded bird, though; almost always and with only rare exceptions the individual being a male wild turkey.

Hunting hours now through May 4 are one-half hour before sunrise until noon. From May 5 to May 18 the hunting hours will be one-half hour before sunrise until sunset.

Any bird taken must be checked-in using the Wildlife Division’s Internet- and telephone-based system by 11:30 p.m. on the day of kill.

 - Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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